Think weight lifting is just for men? Think again. There’s a strong body of evidence to show that women can see benefits from lifting weights like improving overall health and warding off a variety of age-related ailments. Here are seven ways women might benefit from resistance exercises.
1. Resistance Training Could Cut Your Diabetes Risk
A study that assessed the health of nearly 100,000 US nurses for eight years added to a growing body of evidence that resistance exercises can cut the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by as much as a third. The study, published in PLoS Medecine, found that when resistance training was coupled with consistent aerobic activity, type 2 diabetes risk was significantly lower in middle-aged and elderly women.
The study had some flaws in that the subjects were mostly Caucasian and all self-reported their exercise activity, but this research does tally with other similar studies that weight lifting can have an impact on diabetes risk.
2. Want to Cut Your Osteoporosis Risk? Pump that Iron!
As we age, we are more prone to developing osteoporosis, a condition that affects our bones and causes them to become weaker, fragile and therefore more likely to break.
Several longitudinal studies have shown that weight lifting in conjunction with other exercise can be particularly useful for warding off osteoporosis because it improves bone density, increases muscle mass and boosts overall strength and balance. Recommended exercises for this kind of benefit are those that target the back and hips.
3. Lifting Moderate Weights Can Help Ward Off Arthritis or Other Joint Pain
As we age, we lose as much as 50% of our muscle mass. This leaves us vulnerable to joint problems and we may become weaker and more prone to tiredness.
Resistance training not only builds muscle mass but also strengthens joint connective tissue and increases joint stability. Stronger and more stable joints in turn can prevent injury. In fact, one 2009 study showed that among a sample of 240 patients with chronic back pain resulting from a soft tissue injury, a total of 60% of patients saw some pain reduction from lifting weights and many reported an increased sense of well being. Other studies have demonstrated similar results.
4. Lifting Weights Can Help Burn Calories (Even When You’re Not Exercising)
While cardiovascular activity and getting your diet in order consistently come out on top for weight loss, there are a couple of reasons why adding resistance training (and, in particular, something called High Intensity Interval training) to your weight loss routine can help speed up your results. Weight training has been shown to raise the body’s metabolism and can boost it for some hours after the activity itself has ended, meaning that you can burn more calories as you get on with the rest of your day. Coupling resistance training with cardiovascular training can therefore help deliver benefits that cardio alone might not provide.
5. Strength Training Can Keep Your Brain Fit into Old Age
According to a study by a team of researchers at the University of British Columbia, lifting weights might give your brain a boost and ward off age-related mental decline.
The randomized study took a group of 86 elderly (70-80 years old) women without dementia who were nevertheless at high risk of developing a progressive loss of faculties. The women were divided into different groups with 28 women taking part in twice weekly 60-minute resistance training sessions and 30 women taking part in twice weekly 60-minute aerobic training sessions. The trial lasted for six months and the participants’ cognitive faculties, such as memory, decision making and problem solving, were all assessed at the start and the end of the trial.
What the researchers found was that resistance training alone boosted cognitive function — not just maintained it. This was an early, small study and the researchers aren’t exactly sure why resistance training should offer a benefit over aerobic training. Now, that finding might not necessarily translate under larger test conditions, but the cognitive boosting effects of strength training has been documented by other studies, too, so we can at least say that resistance training appears to be good for the old gray matter.
6. Weightlifting Can Help Combat Mild/Moderate Depression Symptoms
We know that most exercise can help to alleviate some depression symptoms, and resistance training is no different. In fact, there have been a range of randomized controlled studies that have shown resistance training like lifting moderate weights can ease depression, and in particular in the elderly.
The exact reasons behind this mood boosting power aren’t known as depression is a complex health problem that varies greatly between individuals, but one reason may be that exercise can improve a sufferer’s ability to sleep, which in turn can help ease the insomnia and in this way allow sufferers to get some much needed respite from their oppressive moods.
Another reason could be that resistance training makes you physically stronger. If a sufferer’s depression is linked to a physical impairment or other condition that can be eased by strengthening the body, we would expect to see an added benefit of depression being eased as physical condition improves.
It should be noted that exercise alone should not be classed as a treatment for depression and that it may not help in all cases. The advice of a doctor should always be sought.
7. Resistance Training Can Make Your Heart Stronger
Without employing particular training methods, women are unlikely to “bulk up” when weight training in the same way that men can. However, women do appear to be able to derive the same heart health benefits.
Studies have shown that not only can resistance training can help ward off cardiovascular disease, but also that when closely monitored it can help those recovering from a cardiac event to regain the strength that heart problems causes us to lose. So, while cardio might be king for improving circulatory function, for those concerned with having a healthy heart, adding a bit of resistance training to your workouts might be just the tonic.
Resistance Training: How Often and How Much?
You should always consult your doctor before starting any fitness program, and they will be able to advise you on exactly what type of activities you should be looking at to best suit your health needs. That said, most of the studies we’ve looked at here appear to suggest that resistance training for 2-3 times a week for no more than an hour with weights that are challenging but not overly so (at least at first) can help you glean the most benefits.
The good news is that if you really don’t like the idea of lifting weights, resistance training can also include things like yoga and pilates, so there’s no reason not to give it a go.
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